Friday, December 8, 2023

Relevance of Regional Party Politics in Meghalaya


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By H H Mohrmen

Many a time regional parties were written off as irrelevant and they are often labelled as parties whose time has ended and whose influences is restricted within the boundaries of Meghalaya only. ‘The reach of the regional parties cannot go beyond Byrnihat,’ is a common tag one often hears people ascribing to the regional parties in the state. This of course is an argument which does not hold water but regional parties are themselves to blame for the kind of negative attributions that people have of them. The very fact that there are many regional parties and that they cannot even for a second unite as one unit or come under one umbrella justifies this common man’s  perception that they cannot be trusted because they exist for their own vested interests.

It is precisely because of all these negative attitudes that people have of the regional parties that it is also all the more important to try and understand the relevance of regional party politics in the state and the country as a whole. And I am willing to take this onus even at the risk of (this time) being called spokesperson of the regional parties because a few weeks back it was alleged that I write on behalf of the Congress.     

Supporters of national parties often mockingly question what the regional parties can do? They are just a drop in the political ocean of the country and they won’t be able to make any difference at all is the common refrain. At the end of the day, in a democracy majority wins, they would conclude. But democracy also ensures that the rights of minorities is also protected or that the majority cannot overrule the right of the minority. Equality is also the most important principle of the Constitution. The very fact that there is a special provision in the constitution which is mandated to protect the rights, customs and traditions of the tribal minority in India validates the fact that regional interests need to be protected and hence the necessity of having regional political parties in the state which will voice this same aspiration to the world at large.

Perhaps the two predominant national parties that are present in the state give us the idea of how diverse they both are in their objectives as well as their approaches. The objective of the Congress is to be a pan-India party which to some extent also respects regional interests and aspirations and its popular slogan is ‘unity in diversity’. On the contrary, the BJP’s approach is assimilation of all the differences that we have into one national identity. In the BJP’s scheme of thing there is no room for regional interests and aspirations. It is therefore all the more important that the voices from  the region are projected more vociferously because of the very fact that the foundation of this country is based on the idea of respecting the diversity that we have as a nation. 

Therefore the one and the most important reason for the existence of the regional parties is because we all admit that people who live in this state are unique in their own right. We have our own culture and tradition, which of course is dynamic and evolves with time, yet we are also proud of our history which is again unique in itself. To me the much hated slogan during the heyday of the Khasi Students’ Union agitation, ‘Khasi by blood, Indian by accident;’ portrayed a very profound notion that the young people those days (who are of course not so young now) had and that is, the fact that our being Indian is only seven decades old, but being a unique tribe or community is in our flesh, bones and blood- in fact it is in our whole being.  

The distinctiveness of the region is not only on the kind of looks that we have, the language that we speak but it is embedded more prominently in the way of life  that we follow. The kinship that we follow which extends even to the animal kingdom, the kind of relationship we have with the hills the rivers, the waterfalls and the trees finds no parallel anywhere else in the world.

The kind of food we eat which are mostly indigenous and wild which has not only kept us alive since time immemorial but it has through ages provided us a balanced diet that kept us strong and healthy. Take cow’s milk for example. It has never been part of our diet and making other milk products is not in our culture, but somehow it was supplemented by other edibles that we consumed.

The way of life which includes both the dying arts, the festivals and other folk tradition that we have,  are all unique and in case of those that are dying, we must at least try to document it, if we cannot revive them anymore. Of course throughout history, we have also lost some of the important parts of our culture, but nevertheless documenting the same will make it become part of our cherished histories.  

The kind of traditional agriculture that we practiced since the time our ancestors first learnt how to farm and when they stopped being mere collectors and gatherers of food, and which has survived the onslaught of nature through trial and error method is also unique in itself. And in this context it is all the more important that when the world is going back to organic farming, we are lucky that our traditional farming practices be it in agriculture or in livestock rearing, has always been organic. 

The Khasi-Pnars are also the most hospitable and most welcoming and the very few open tribes in the region. The fact that we have a tradition of tang jait where we welcome those who wish to be part of our community is one such example. The many clans that originated from outside and became part of the community are testimony to this fact and in Jaintia hills; the progenitor (Iawbei) of the Dkhar clan is believed to have originated from Jaintiapur.

Strengthening the Autonomous District Councils will stand in good stead in our effort to protect, preserve and promote our culture. I think it is also in the spirit of protecting, preserving and promoting the culture and the interests of the people, that state government should do away with the department of Art and Culture and let the ADCs be the sole authority on the subject of culture and traditions. In fact it is also in the interest of the tribal community that the state government supports the different ADCs and avoids any confrontation or conflict between the two.

I believe the ideas mentioned above and many more elements of our culture that we cannot find space to mention here should be the basis on which the regional parties should frame their policies and programs. Our unique history and our culture are our foundation and strength; it should be the foothold on which we stand and decide where we want to go. Our focus should be on the strength of the community not on its weakness. The emphasis should be on strengthening our roots and I also believe this is the reason why we have many regional parties working for the same cause.

Many regional parties have emerged because of the different ideas that we have on how we can best work for the interest of the tribal community and there are at least two prominent schools of thoughts on this subject. One school of thought which is progressive, believes that regional aspirations can be achieved by focusing on the inner strength of the community, while the other which is more radical and protective in nature believes that regional aspirations can only be protected by formulating mechanisms to protect us from the influx of outsiders. This school of thought believes that the threat to the community is from outside; while in the other school of thought the threat is more from inside when we are not proud of our history, our culture and even our language. And it is compounded when we don’t even want to know or learn of who we are and where we come from?

In my opinion the two major regional parties which have entered into a pre-poll alliance with each other take the two different approaches in their efforts to achieve theirs. The goal is the same and only the approaches to reach the goal are different. It is here that we see a possibility of this alliance being successful because the two schools of thoughts share the same goal. The approaches the two political parties take complement each other.    

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